Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods are on a collision course for Claret Jug glory at St Andrews next July.
The Holywood hotshot came up just short of his first win at the world’s most famous course when he finished tied second behind Simon Dyson in the Alfred Dunhill Links.
Despite a faltering the back nine, he was surprised to leap to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
But he was still delighted to keep up his incredible record at the Old Course ahead of next year’s Open, where Woods will be bidding to win the Claret Jug at the Home of Golf for the third time in a row following wins in 2000 and 2005.
After a closing 69, which was his sixth successive round in the 60s at St Andrews, McIlroy said: "I wanted better but second is okay. I wish I had played better for my dad but I still haven't shot in the 70s at St Andrews, which is nice.
"I love St Andrews. I love the town - it's a special place and it's my favourite course in the world. To win here is something everyone dreams of.
"Roll on 2010. Winning the Open is a huge goal of mine and I always said that if I was to play the Open here I would do well.
"I've played it probably between 15 and 20 times and I find it easy. I can make birdies round here and I feel very comfortable."
McIlroy couldn't find the birdies when it really counted - coming down the stretch. But you wouldn't bet against him giving St Andrews specialist Woods a run for his money at the Home of Golf next summer.
McIlroy’s dad Gerry turned 50 on Monday and after working 100 hours a week at three jobs to support his son’s love for the game, he could be in for the thrill of a lifetime next July and a juicy pay-out from the bookies.
The former bar manager and three of his friends have bet £400 (€433) at 500-1 that Rory, 20, will win the Open before he is 25. Right now he’s 6/4 with Paddy Power.
Gerry said: “We put the bet on when he was 15. They would only let us lay £400 - £100 each.”
In three appearances at the Alfred Dunhill Links, McIlroy has finished third, eighth and second with rounds of 67, 68, 68, 67, 65 and 69 putting him an incredible 28 under par for his last six rounds on the world’s most famous course.
McIlroy's stroke average of 67.34 means Gerry and his pals could be laughing all the way to the bank next summer if the youngster can outguns Tiger and Co.
Not that Gerry has to worry about money any more.
McIlroy took his season’s earnings in Europe to €2m on Monday to move €26,512 clear of Martin Kaymer at the top of the Race to Dubai standings in his bid to become the youngest player to be crowned king of the Europe.
McIlroy took it all for granted when he was a kid but now he realises the huge sacrifices that his parents made to give him the best chance of succeeding.
He said: “I’ll never be able to repay Mum and Dad for what they did, but at least they know they’ll never have to work another day. I’ll do whatever it takes to look after them.”
It’s been an amazing journey to the top for McIlroy, who has earned €2.98m in Europe alone since he turned professional at the British Masters on 20 September 2007.
He’s almost certainly worth close to twice that when you add in his earnings around the world plus lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Titleist, Jumeirah, Lough Erne and EA Sports.
McIlroy has four more events to go this season as he tries to become the youngest European No 1 in history.
Back in the world’s top 20 at 19th in the latest world rankings, McIlroy is taking this week off to recharge his batteries before resuming alongside Padraig Harrington in next week’s Portugal Masters.
From there he will play the Barclays Singapore Open, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Hong Kong Open before heading to the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates for the season-ending Dubai World Championship.
And if he wins the Race to Dubai he will get $1.5m from the Dubai Bonus Pool plus a possible $1.25m winner's cheque for the season-ending extravaganza.
Only the top 60 money winners will make it to Dubai with Peter Lawrie (47th), Damien McGrane (49th) and Gareth Maybin (55th) all looking good.
There will be eight Irish players in action in this week’s Madrid Masters with Lawrie, McGrane and Maybin joined by 65th ranked Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey (82nd) and Paul McGinley (104th).
Kilkenny’s Gary Murphy is more worried about finishing in the top 115 who will retain their cards as he is 145th in the money list with events running out.
Irish Open champion Shane Lowry is 182nd but his card is secure until the end of 2011 thanks to his win at Baltray in May.